April 29, 2007 / 11:06 AM / 12 years ago

Estonia to relocate Red Army statue, calm returns

TALLINN (Reuters) - Estonia is to set up a Red Army monument in a military cemetery in time for the anniversary of the end of World War Two after its removal from the center of the capital sparked riots, officials said on Sunday.

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The government decided to move the monument to avoid demonstrations linked to the anniversary on May 9, but had not originally planned to re-site it until the end of May.

But after the protests which erupted on Thursday, in which one man died, the government moved fast on Friday to remove the monument.

“I hope we will have the monument installed at the military cemetery by May 8,” Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aviksoo told a news conference.

May 9 marks victory in Europe over Nazi Germany and sometimes provokes tensions between Russian-speakers and ethnic Estonians.

Russia called moving the monument, a 2-metre (6-1/2 ft) high bronze statue of a Red Army soldier, an insult to those who fought fascism.

Many Russian-speakers, about 300,000 out of 1.3 million people, view the statue with fondness, while ethnic Estonians see it as a reminder of 50 years of Soviet rule.

Around 1,000 people were detained in the violence, mainly by Russian-speaking youths, though only 46 remain in custody.

No protests over the removal of the monument came on Saturday in the capital, Tallinn, though some clashes occurred in mainly Russian-speaking northeast Estonia.

Aviksoo said digging up the remains of any soldiers, a process begun on Saturday, would take three days. He said the government did not regret its decision to remove the monument.

Despite Russia’s anger, Moscow has not said what action it will take. Estonia said the riots had nothing to do with honoring World War Two soldiers, but was drunken hooliganism.

Russia has said excessive police force led to the death of one man, a Russian citizen.

Estonia said he was stabbed by another demonstrator.

Additional reporting by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm

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